Thursday, February 24, 2011

SETTING PRIORITIES

How can we teach that to our budding chess-players?  With role models I guess. That's why there are the senior sections in each tournament where the games are often the last to finish. The lower tables of the junior section are often the first to finish.

There should be someone t to explain the purpose of playing in a tournament. Tournaments are definitely not social in nature. Every competitor strives to win. However, some will take it lightly while others see it as the game of their life. Chess players should treat tournaments somewhere in between - be serious but then its not the end of the world. A loss merely means something's gone wrong and it is important to address it to fix  the problem.

Yet I often see children playing with portable game-stations, game cards or playing on their parents' mobile phones in between games. Isn't this wrong? If they wish to play chess in a friendly or cordial environment, then they should do that in chess clubs, or play online without having to compete. If there are lessons to be learnt, it should be learnt there and then after the game - the player should reflect on what happened. However, the game is  usually not recorded and the player forgets what had happened. So it is theoretical possible to lose the same game in exactly the same way AGAIN. I have seen it happen and often wondered if it's not a waste of everyone's time to be there for the tournament if we keep repeating our mistakes??

So parents should help set priorities straight for their children. Go to a tournament by all means to learn, to experiment, to understand what needs to be done for the next. Don't go to a tournament to snack or socialise to a point where the result doesn't matter. There are better ways to do that like going for a picnic in the parks or beach. Trivialising the competition isn't going to help them later in life when everything important seems like a comedic movie to them - to enjoy and forget.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

ROLE MODELS

After reading a post from a fellow chess-organiser on why we do not have the hunger for success in chess, I started looking back at my earlier post on HUNGER FOR SUCCESS.

There seems to be a void of role models in our local scene. Today's chess-players will probably not heard of Terence Wong, or Alphonsus Chia, or Lim Seng Hoo, Wong Meng Kong, Tan Lian Ann or Leslie Leow - how these local born players have reached international status in their chess careers which may span from the 60's -80's.

Terence Wong finished SECOND behind David Goodman in the 1975 edition of the World Cadets (now World Youth Championship).  Alphonsus was in the World Cadets in 1976 in the company of Kasparov and Short and finished 9th (Kasparov was 5th). Tan Lian Ann was in the Candidates Tournament at Petropolis in 1973 and had some good games with Geller, Smyslov, then again at the 1976 Interzonal. Leslie Leow was also a formidable opponent in his hey-days, winning the National Championship and claiming some GM scalps from the early days of Siegen 1970 till the Olympiads in 1988. Lim Seng Hoo shared the chess honours in the 80's, often overcoming the region's top players before becoming an IM  He was deffinitely GM material but chose to retire.The final Asian Junior Champion from our shores was of course our GM Wong Meng Kong who won the title in 1979 in Tehran and was awarded the IM title then. At the ladies end, Ms Liew Oi Wah entered the Interzonals in 1981 but chose to take her O levels that year.

There are of course many others who've graced the international stage which I can name spanning 2 generations - Dr Goh Cheng Hong, Teo Kok Siong, Chan Peng Kong, Quek Suan Fuan, Dennis Tan, Tan Chee Keon,  Choong Liong Onn, Tan Lian Seng, Giam Choo Kwee, Tay Watson, Mok Kwong Weng, Pang Kwok Leong, Wong Meng Leong, Chia Chee Seng, Koh Kum Hong, Lim Chye Seng, down to Alvin Ong, Soh Kok Hong, Ian Wong,  Hsu Li Yang, Low Pe Yeow, Lee Wang Sheng, Ong Chong Ghee,Wong Foong Yin, Mark Tan, Malcolm Tan, Terry Toh, Mark Lim, Dr Jeremy Lim, Lim Hoon Cheng, Lau Keng Boon, Gregory Choong, Mark Chan,Tan Tzer En... the list goes on.

It is indeed a pity that SCF does not tap on these distinguished persons to showcase to the parents that we once had WORLD-BEATERS - that's right, players who once took on the international stage and are capable on holding our own against the top. These players ought to be invited back to major school competitions and inspire our youth of what it is to reclaim international glory.  Without a clear view of the sky which is the limit, it is little wonder that I often hear of  self-defeating comments made  by players that they cannot overcome their obstacles. 

Let me end with a quote from the past-FIDE president Mr F Campomanes : " And sport must have heroes. Without heroes, what will beginners look up to? They like to see somebody going up. All these things add up as inspiration for the young man. You need heroes in any sport to attract to it. But heroes are not and should never be exempt from discipline. They should set the highest example..."

YET ANOTHER PAYFUL YEAR

The Singapore Sports Council (SSC) has outlined its funding for 2011 yesterday and it seems that chess is once again out of the limelight, or I'd say, gone right into the shadows. $67m dispensed into the other sports, with dancesport,petanque and sepak takraw getting meagre mention but Chess?

So once again we in the chess-playing community have to fend for ourselves for another year of high entry fees, high participation fees in any SCF initiated projection (from Junior Squad to overseas competitions) as long as the snub from the authorities persist. Although the SCF acting Treasurer has replied to me that steps are taken to make SCF a charity (in line with SSC's guidelines to ensure good governance and accountability with raised funds), we have yet to hear of the SCF's initatives for presentation to SSC for multi-year funding., as well as the dialog with the MOE on the status of chess in schools. Should there be any SCF official reading this post, I'd appreciate some information.

I am just wondering for how long is this situation going to last  with no sponsors forthcoming. In view of rising living costs, paying more than $40 for tournament participation is going to pinch, even bruise.

Probably cheaper to enroll in a chess club where $40 gets you an annual membership or minimally 120 hours of over-the-board chess a year. Never mind the trophies...

Monday, February 21, 2011

HONG BAO RAPID AFTERTHOUGHTS

I got to see my students for a brief moment between Rounds 4 to 5 yesterday at the Scouts Association. Though playing conditions were a little claustrophobic, the sequence of events was orderly. Most of the students fared reasonably well, some less so. O had 5.5 pts while Q had 5 points, which is very good in view of the field. The other unrated female student got 4/7 which is commendable given her usual timid self. SH lost to someone who later withdrew, thus affecting his tie-break of 4 pts which set him back. He lost the other to the tournament winner and drew 2 games against 1400+ players. So really, his performance is deemed more than satisfactory.

Of course there will be some who'd had a bad day, hence its best to let them reflect on their performance a little while first.Overall, only 1 of the 8 students scored less than 3.5 which is in a way a consolation. 

With more exposure in future tournaments, I expect to see their results improve, with a little more consistent practice online of course.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

SOME FEEDBACK PLEASE

The 63rd National Schools Individual Championship shall be convened at Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel at Kim Seng Road. Entry fee for each student with school endorsement is $60. This to me is rather exorbitant. How many schools I wonder would have the budget to send students to the competitions if they have 10 or more ? I have noticed that the entry fees have crept up over the years, from $25 to $40 and now $60. Students without school endorsement now pay $100.

Granted that it is a hotel venue, but again I ask the SCF is it pertinent to host a school competition in a hotel and passing the buck to the schools or to parents (if the schools can't pay)? Let's see if this fee structure is sustainable.

For those reading this who are involved in other sports competitions at the school level, I'd appreciate your feedback for this post. Are national school competitions in other sports costing as much for each student? We need to have some perspective on this - otherwise, I cannot see how chess can be promoted widely should the tournament fees rise continually.

THOMSON CHESS CLUB

Where does one get to play a human opponent face to face on Fridays ?

Fret not, Thomson CC Chess Club opens its doors on the 3rd floor activity room next to the elevator. The Chess Club starts 7.30pm and ends 10.00pm. Members are advised to sms 97985479 to check if the club is open for that day as we depend on volunteers to open the premises each week.

To join, annual membership for children 12 and under is $10 and $12 for all others. You will need to be a Passion Card Member to join the chess club, which is $10 for children 12 and  under or over 60. For those aged in between, its $12. PassionCard membership is valid for 5 years.

Chess sets are available, players with chess clocks are advised to bring one.

Address : 194 Upper Thomson Road (Opp Long House Eating House)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

NEVER MIND

At the behest of a chess-parent, I respond with this article on how new chess parents should be involved with a child who's just started on chess.

Playing chess involves many components of logic and knowlegdge, so I would not encourage younger children to start with the full 32 pieces laid out at the start.

A better way is to start with only the pawns on the 2nd and 7th rows. The objective is to show how pawns move and promote. The side that promotes first wins.  Try playing this with the children to get them to understand how pawns move and can capture. They will grow up learning to push their pawns carefully.

After considerable hours are spent, perhaps introduce the Kings into the starting position of pawns alone. Then after some time, add the pair of Bishops. Then the Rooks. Then the Knights. Finally the Queen.

A gradual introduction of the pieces would gradually expose the new player into the powers of each piece through play. The child can start as early as 3 or 4 with this approach, gradually easing into the 32 piece starting position by 7.

Now for the new tournament kiddos. As parents, what counts is the ability to pacifiy their children when he/she loses. The last thing any parent should say to their child after a loss is : "NEVER MIND". How many times do we hear this at tournaments? Sure, its the right thing to do after a sobbing child clamours for relief after a traumatised episode in which his/her King is checkmated. However, this is where the greatest damage is usually done.

Saying NEVER MIND after a loss is in fact condoning failure without the need to reflect or  be accountable for the loss. The child is pacified and goes on playing another game , takes no steps to correct his/her play. Rather, it would be best to invoke the investigative and inquisitive young mind to ponder how he/she lost that game. Many would have no clue. So its good to have someone patiently explaining the game to the player the seeds of defeat and advising them to try not the same mistakes. But of course they will. So its a constant battle to remind them until the message sinks in.

Hence, preparing a child mentally to face competition is just as important as equipping them with the knowledge to play the game. Otherwise, the benefits of chess may not be fully understood by the players and parents themselves. Spending hours at a chess tournament can be daunting, even more so if nothing is gained out of the activity. I believe that some quality growing up and bonding time can be spent between parent and child and this makes it all the more worthwhile for the parent-child relatonship in their formative years.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

STATE OF CHESS IN SCHOOLS

After performing a search on the MOE's School Information Service on the schools offering Chess as a CCA, my findings are:

Primary Schools      - 36 out of 182 
Secondary Schools - 23 out of 153 
Tertiary Institutions -   9 out of 12   

What seems worrysome is that for a useful board game such as chess, the representation rate at primary and secondary level is max 20%. Surely this is cause for alarm. Although looking at the number of participation schools from the 2010 National Individuals, which stands at 145 and having 1280 participants, there could have been schools which have no official Chess CCA but have students signing up individually. There are also several institutions outside the MOE school system competing as well. 

Someone raised the point about why Chess is not looked upon as a sport but a Club and Society activity? Has this distinction impacted the popularity of chess in schools? Should chess-players be penalised to take up another CCA just to fulfil the requirements for CCA points to be awarded? I welcome your ideas and comments.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

WHERE HAVE ALL THE FLOWERS GONE?

We have had a healthy exchange about how to involve parents into the current chess activities. Having followed the junior chess scene for most of the last 30 years, there has been a healthy growth of players taking up chess and the players are getting younger.

However, what worries me is the high attrition rate of players from the  local chess scene. I am sure we have had many  who followed the game since the Fischer-Spassky era of 1972 ( I did when I was 9). Many are in their 50s - 70s today and what's alarming is that they have not been seen at the tournaments. This crop of players are in their time relatively good to give any junior a good sparring , therefore they are critical to raising the level of chess-playing in my opinion. However, not many will have the time to spend a full day at tournaments given the demands of work and family, hence perhaps a few hours at a chess club a week may be helpful. Thus there lies the need to promote chess club activity in order to revive their interest in playing and interact with our youth.

Where are the boys and girls that used to play as students in the 80's-90's? Many are parents now, but I don't see many of their children playing ironically. If we estimate an average about 500 school-children  in a  cohort who have played chess from their P1 till O level (10 years), over 50 years (starting from 1960) that will work out to about 25000 people in the school system. How many of them are still actively playing today? It would be a crying shame if chess would end up being similar to music-theory learning where most kids go through the pain of learning and drop it out of their lives when the exams (or competitions in the case of chess ) cease.

In my teens, I owed my improvement and  chess values to veteran mentors who taught me not to  fear them, or rush my moves when winning and be humble even when they had to resign,. They would even share their thoughts with me in analysing our game without even asking. We will need these enthusiasts if we are to establish a true chess culture here. Sadly, many see the fast time controls adopted in tournaments today as a bane to their comeback. They find no relief playing online as most games on the Internet are either blitzes at 5 min or less. So where do you really go to play a game that will last 1 hr or more these days, without having to compete?

Hence the thrust of m,y 1984 article is to get everyone to look at the problem of the void in terms of sparring partners for our junior players. This void has grown over the last 25 years as I can recall, with the rapid decrease of SCF adult memberships and their participation rate in tournaments spanned over the 2 decades. I'd say that if we do not take steps to rectify the situation, in the long term, we may not be able to sustain even the children's interest in the game too (as they will ultimately fall out right after their A levels or even sooner).

I find that if chess is truly to be representative as a sport, its stature in society cannot be measured  mainly by just junior chess-playing activity. Representation in numbers should span across all ages, from the young to the aged, from schools to the cross-section of society. 

Saturday, February 5, 2011

A LITTLE KNOWLEDGE IS A DANGEROUS THING

In my early years of involvement with chess, I have worked most of the time with junior students direct - being their mentor, guardian sometimes. It is of course good once in a while to meet their parents, as their support for their child is ultimate key to success. I used to remind myself that not every parent is like mine, intent to stopping their child's interest in chess , believing that they should be spending their time and energies on school books rather than chess books.

Today, the scene is quite the opposite - more non chess-playing parents are keen to see their children take up this fabulous (in their opinion) game. It makes the child concentrate, think about what they want to do before doing it, focus and it helps in their mathematical faculties too. A radical change of opinion in just about 25 years.Parents today are keen to be involved in their kids' activities and would want to show their care and concern.

So though I see parental support as a good thing, parental involvement is another. My chief grouse lies in that many parents get involved in chess not for the benefit of everyone, but for their children first of all.

We had an incident about rugby players and their parents getting caught in fist-fights after some provocation. Reports about students getting their parents involved in their disciplinary sanctions. Yes, this is the ugly side of over-protective parents wanting to ensure that their kids are, not in any way wronged or disadvantaged (on their own terms)  in any activity they enroll in.

I am aware that tapping on parents' for their support does have a down-side, i.e when objectivity goes out the window when their child is involved in the matter. A simple case: I had to explain to a parent whose child had a bye in round 1. Due to the peculiarity of his name, he was somehow floated down and in a tournament with odd number of players, the program set him up with a bye. Apparently this trend was repeated and the parent was obviously upset when it happened yet again. Can I change the pairing so that he can play? Why must he be the victim? Can't somebody take the bye instead?! 

Another common contentious issue is about age-group prizes: There was a complaint from a parent some years ago, who wondered why his son finished top of his age-group but was given the 5th overall prize and not the age-group prize? Why should this be, he asked? To this parent, 5th overall means 5th out of X contenders but winning the age-group means a 1st somehow. He's relegated in stature to receive his intended prize, can't the organisers see that?!...the list goes on. 

Hence, I think its best that we encourage the kids to come to our chess  club events, but parents perhaps allow their kids the freedom to play and leave the organisation of the chess activities to the hands of the experts. However, in the area of chess promotion and sponsorship, it will be useful to consult the parents' expertise and networking  to open doors and get the right people to listen to ideas on hosting good promotional events. That in my view will be the best way to get the parent's involvement , in seeing that the events are well-funded and properly organised not just for their kids, but for all.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

HAS ANYTHING CHANGED SINCE 1984?

1984 was George Orwell's peer into the future world when he wrote it in 1948 - a dark world with rigid control devoid of human freedom of expression. "Big Brother is watching you" pretty much underlines the theme.

Yet in 1984 I wrote anonymously to a chess publication Singapore Chess Digest about the chess club scene.  Our club scene was much better back in the 70's till 1982 but went downhill since. I was stating my point that we in Singapore did not do enough to promote a chess culture amongst our chess players, in the promotion of chess clubs and non-competitive chess activity then. I wrote that we should encourage more to take part in chess playing by attending chess sessions at the clubs, without having to compete only in tournaments. It will be much more cordial, relaxed and most importantly socially healthy for chess-players to interact, discuss and further their interest in chess. The club scene would have been further developed into a league that can attract sponsors if it was significant. Generally countries with a healthy club scene will do much better in increasing the number of chess enthusiasts, thereby expanding the number in the masses who can understand and appreciate and love chess. Should the Federation not be pursuing this direction, I ended by asking?

The editor thanked me for airing my views, albeit he was not in favour of publishing anonymous letters but I made an interesting point. The reason was that I was not a subscriber of the magazine as yet then

Look at the success today of the 4NCL in England and the Bundesliga in Germany. They have spun off into providing the impetus for the European Team Championship. In the US the US Amateur Team Championship has also taken off. 

So what has changed in Singapore chess club scene since 1984? Hardly. We are still promoting chess tournaments as the main activity, with a little sweetener thrown in by offering age-group prizes to entice innocent parents into believing that their children can ,deservedly or otherwise, win trophies. Our pool of chess mercenaries will still emerge whenever a large prize pool is offered in any event. Let's face it -  who's really interested in a competition without a decent prize fund? Our active chess clubs have dwindled over the years to a mere handful. The  National InterClubs used to have over 40-50 teams total  back in the 80's. Today? It can't even be held last year. I am seeking my annual chess holiday in the Merdeka Team Tournament which may not take place this year.You may wish to ask me what has happened to the Singapore Intellectual Games Centre at Bishan ,  our version of the DATCC, where SCF has a club-house and office? Isn't that supposed to be open daily for members who wish to play? It's now a big class-room folks. Think of all the donors that have raised the funds to make it our National Chess Centre...surely this is not what they've envisiaged the place to be?

So rather than lament at 27 years of stagnation, I am determined to make Thomson Chess Club as lively as I can this year. I hope to inspire  clubs like the Serangoon, Cairnhill, Toa Payoh West and hopefully others to revive the interest of playing chess over the board as opposed to playing online. There are many I believe who borrow chess books from the libraries and it is this target group we should reach out to recruit as members for the clubs. So where are the volunteer organisers who would give up their weekends and weekday to run chess activities ?? We used to have more than a dozen. Today they are down to less than 5.  I would not count on parents of young chess-players to do this, it has to come from the chess-lovers with a passion for chess. Without the nursery to spur the future growth of these organisers,  I fear we are slowly slipping our beloved game of chess into oblivion - I feel the Sports Council seems to think it already has.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

SPONSORSHIPS

    Sponsors are crucial to any activity promotion - without which much cannot be achieved.

    However, sponsorships come in many kinds - those don't expect any returns, or those who require mileage in return for their gesture.

    In today's world, one should not expect too many of the former but more of the latter. Look at the Grand Prixs, the World Cup etc. Big bucks for a name to displayed to millions. 

    Sadly, in chess sponsorship relies mainly on enthusiasts in high places with a genuine love for the game to part with their wealth. All over the world, these people are few to come by - eg Jacob van Oostrom, Mr Rentaro (who used to sponsor Linares), Bessel Kok who was formerly of SWIFT who did the World Cup series in the late 80's, Mr Cuchi of the New York Open fame etc. Yet how many people do remember the sponsors after the events are over? 

We are often crying out that our scene suffers from the lack of sponsors. Yet sometimes we do not see the picture from their end. Sponsors I believe would much prefer if their names are carried on products long after the event is gone, so that everyone remembers them continually. 

Moving ahead in the New Year, I am also tasked to look for a new sponsor for my Thomson Cup International who has been running for the past 4 years. This year, we want to make it a grand 5th anniversary so much canvassing work will be in progress. As a Community Club event rather than a national level event, we hope to try raise the awareness of chess on youths in our community at Thomson and hopefully the neighbourliness of the corporations around the area will be generous. 

    My strategy ? Start small - perhaps with a sponsorship for small clip-boards which the logo of the sponsor can be added at the back. Then proper table cloths to be made with the logo that can be hung from the side of the tables. These will make the sponsor's name visible, to enhance their image.

    Next, attempt to beam the top games on stage with the sponsor's logo next to the beamed chessboards. 

Finally, you will need to make the event attractive enough to warrant the press's attention - with media coverage confirmed, the sponsors will surely be more receptive knowing full well that they will get needed publicity for their efforts.

    Much of what was said has been executed and has worked with the Karpov and Kasparov visit last year. It is not impossible to get the press's attention if you dream big. Let's do that - dream big. Have a Internet version of the Singapore - Malaysia match on New Year's Eve...or have Anand/Hou Yifan  give a simul to the top government officials via the Internet. Only such projects will excite the attention of the masses and create interest for sponsors to come forth.